Forked Parallelism In Egyptian, Ugaritic And Hebrew Poetry -- By: Richard Abbott

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 62:1 (NA 2011)
Article: Forked Parallelism In Egyptian, Ugaritic And Hebrew Poetry
Author: Richard Abbott

Forked Parallelism In Egyptian, Ugaritic And Hebrew Poetry1

Richard Abbott


A particular pattern of tricolon or triplet, sometimes known as forked parallelism, has been identified in Ugaritic and early Hebrew poetry. It has been suggested that it is a characteristic style of Canaanite or ancient Semitic poetry, and noted that in the Hebrew Bible its use declines dramatically outside the archaic and early examples of poetry. Hence it can be seen as a stylistic indicator suggesting authentic early composition of some portions of the Hebrew Bible. This paper shows that the pattern was also used as a regular feature in some genres of Egyptian poetry from the Old Kingdom through to the end of the New Kingdom. At that time it appears to have ceased being a device regularly used by Egyptian poets, in parallel with their counterparts in the Levant. Thus the use, and subsequent decline, of this pattern in Israel is a local reflection of a wider aesthetic choice rather than an isolated phenomenon. The structural uses of this and some other triplet patterns are reviewed, and some clear poetic purposes identified. This review also highlights some differences between the typical poetic use of triplets in Ugaritic, Hebrew and Egyptian. Some typical triplet patterns used in Ugaritic and Hebrew are not found in Egyptian sources.

1. Introduction

It has been widely recognised for some time that Biblical Hebrew poetry is fundamentally built of couplets, themed pairs of lines, and that within the couplet lines, key components are recognisably parallel to each other.2 Several different possibilities for creating parallelism have been identified, including semantic, syntactic, grammatical, gender matching, and the use of sound patterns such as alliteration. In a similar way, several authors have noted that Egyptian poetry is overwhelmingly carried along by means of couplets.3 The use of parallel composition has also been identified in Ugaritic and Akkadian examples,4 and may be recognised even in fragmentary texts such as the Balaam inscription at Deir ‘Alla’.5 It was clearly regarded as a fundamental poetic technique in the ancient Near East.

Although couplets predominate in all of these traditions, they do include a minority of larger poetic structures, from triplets through to multi-line forms. Less work has addressed the classification and role of these. For example, it is not agreed why, o...

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